This song is about rebelling against British politics. A lot of young people felt alienated by the stifling rule of the old-fashioned royal monarchy. The Queen (Queen Elizabeth), was their symbol.
The British national anthem is called "God Save The Queen." This mocks it in a big way, which did not go over well with English royalty.
Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren released this to coincide with The Queen's Silver Jubilee, a celebration commemorating her 25th year on the throne. The Sex Pistols and their fans detested the monarchy and this celebration.
The Queen's Silver Jubilee took place on June 7, 1977. On that day, The Sex Pistols attempted to play this song from the Thames river, outside of Westminster Palace. It was a typical Malcolm McLaren promotional stunt, as they played up how the band was circumventing a "ban" by playing on the river instead of setting foot on ground. The performance never took place, as they were thwarted by authorities.
This was originally called "No Future." The band played it live and recorded a demo version with that title, but changed it when lead singer Johnny Rotten got the idea to mock the British monarchy.
This became an anthem for the punk movement in England. It expressed the anger young people felt toward the establishment.
In the UK, this outsold the #1 song at the time, Rod Stewart's "I Don't Want To Talk About It
," but it mysteriously and controversially stayed at #2.
The Sex Pistols were signed to A&M records when they recorded this. They dropped the band just as this was released, pulling all the singles. The ones that slipped through became valuable collectors items. In 2011 Record Collector magazine compiled its Top 50 most collectable records, and top of the list came the A&M release of this song - if you happen to have a copy the good news is it worth $12,000 (£8,000).
This was released on Virgin Records, the third label to sign The Sex Pistols (EMI and A&M both dropped the band because they were too much trouble). It was released as a single in May, 1977, but the album did not come out until December, as they had many problems recording it.
Bass player Sid Vicious joined the band shortly before this was released - it was one of only two songs he played on. Original bassist Glen Matlock was fired because he was too nice.
Popular belief is that this song was "banned" by the BBC and most other broadcasting outlets. In truth, the BBC didn't ban records, but made programing decisions based on its standards and enforced certain rules, like barring product mentions. The BBC's Radio 1 did exclude the song from their playlist, and some major retailers (including and Woolworth's and WH Smith) refused to stock it, but by labeling it taboo the song became even more marketable, and it sold an amazing 150,000 copied the first week it was released.
The working title for the album was "God Save The Sex Pistols."
A month after this was released, some members of the band were attacked by men who supported the British monarchy. Johnny Rotten's hand was permanently damaged.
The cover of the single showed a picture of The Queen with a safety pin through her lip, serving to anger the establishment even more. The cover was designed by Jamie Reid, who went to Croydon College of Art with Malcolm McLaren. The lettering was designed to look like a ransom note, an idea that would be copied in many forms of design, but especially among future punk bands. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Motorhead covered this on their 2000 album We Are Motorhead. The album cover is a tribute to the Sex Pistols original single.
This was re-released in England in 2002 to coincide with The Queen's Golden Jubilee, which celebrated Queen Elizabeth's 50th year on the throne.
At the 2008 Biennale of Sydney, which is a 12-week contemporary art festival, the Swiss artist Christoph Buchel presented an exhibit called "No Future." He turned the gallery into a rehearsal space for a Punk band with all the members over the age of 80. The band rehearsed this song.
Speaking with Official Charts.com
in a 2012 interview, John Lydon (formerly Johhny Rotten) claimed that he did not intend to attack the Queen's Silver Jubilee with this song. He said: "I wrote a record. It wasn't about a specific moment in time or history – I wrote a record about a subject matter that mattered to me, in a personal way, and then all this situation enveloped and unfolded. I never did it as an act of spite against the Jubilee. I don't think that's been quite completely understood."
Sex Pistols lead singer John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, had the song on his mind long before he brought it to the band or even committed it to paper. He explained in an interview with Daniel Rachel (The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters): "'God Save the Queen' was running around in my mind for months, long before joining the Sex Pistols; the idea of being angry, of the indifference of the Queen to the population and the aloofness and indifference to us as people. I had to work on building sites to get the money to go to college because I wanted to further my education and yet I was taxed to f--k. Why am I paying for that silly cow who couldn't give a shit about me? Along come the Pistols and just one morning over baked beans I wrote it down in one go on Mum and Dad's kitchen table."